The past two weekends, while I’ve been doing cookery demonstrations with Lidl Ireland on the road, I continuously say that if you have a bag of spuds (potatoes) and a tray of eggs you’ll never go hungry. I say this because I’m trying to explain what it’s like to live as a family on a tight food budget and yet try to pack as many nutrients as you can into your daily diet.
That’s how essential potatoes are to planning my family’s meals for the week. At the moment there’s a bag of Pat Moore’s beautiful new potatoes in the kitchen which I used for this recipe. There’s also plenty of spuds at the allotment to be dug but there is no greater storage spot than nature’s larder (the ground) at the moment so they’ll stay there for a while longer.
I go to Bloom in the Phoenix Park every year, have done since it opened. I applied for media accreditation this year and Bord Bia were kind enough to grant me a pass. With the boys on a day off school today we packed up the boys and headed for the city centre early in the day to put the festival to our family test. Read on for more top tips on how to make the most of Bloom this year from a family point of view. Note, we didn’t have the elder lemon who is studying for her Leaving Cert (starts on Wednesday).
It’s the 11th year of this extremely popular garden and food festival organised by Bord Bia in the largest city centre park in Europe. Bloom is always extremely popular with visitors. I’ve a gallery of images from our day at the bottom of this post.
What I like about the festival is that they really take on board feedback from the previous years. So it means that each year there are improvements to the schedule and layout that make your visit more comfortable.
The month of April has been a sprint from start to finish for me, and I want to explain. It’s not that I haven’t had the time to update the blog. I’ve actually sat down and started typing most days. It’s just that there is something major going on in the background that I can’t talk about quite yet. This time next month it will all be in the open and you will probably understand why I’ve been sitting on my hands. Normally I hate when people put up vague updates about ‘exciting things’ but I promise that it will be public within the next month so feel comfortable explaining that I’ve been preoccupied (understatement).
As part of this new ‘thing’ I’ve been working on I was privileged to have Cathy Dunne take some work photos of me last week. As full disclosure, Cathy is my cousin. When I heard I needed professional photos I knew I wanted to worth with her as she has incredible talent, eye, and understands what I love and do perfectly. The photos she took were taken using natural light (no flash photography at all), and with minimal editing. The eagle-eyed amongst you will spot that this is not my kitchen; it’s the kitchen in my parents’ house which was perfect for us on the day.
So the allotment! I started saying I had an allotment update!
As you probably know, there were bad frosts last week and yes we did lose some of the grapes but not all. We are still hoping for a decent harvest. We had elected not to fleece because of our proximity to the coast (it’s literally 200 m away from the polytunnel). Foolhardy I know. This is variety ‘Flame’ which we got from Ken Muir in the UK 3 years ago. We are hoping for a good crop of blush seedless grapes this year.
Some of the tomatoes aren’t doing so well with the cold and I’m not sure that all the tubs are draining well either. However the tumblers in the basket are flying along despite the frost last week. There are oodles of yellow flowers which are a good sign of the crop to come.
The strawberries, which are outdoors, don’t seem to have been affected by the frost at all and there are quite a few blossoms, each of which will become individual strawberries (fingers crossed).
The shallots, onions, and garlic have ‘jumped’ over the past fortnight or so and are thriving. We don’t harvest them until the Autumn and they have a long way left to grow yet anyway.
I’m at the guilt-fest that comes with having buckets of work and not enough time to spend at the plot. Look sure it’ll all balance out in the end. I hope. I still need to plant carrots, fix raised beds, weed EVERYWHERE, and support the peas and beans. It’s been on my to-do list for at least a fortnight at this stage.
Finally the new herd of bainbh (Gaelic for bonham or piglet) have arrived and are happily wandering around the paddock looking for bits to eat. The cycle begins again.
We’re not long back from the allotment after another gloriously sunny Sunday spent in my happy place. I took the big camera down today and had great craic documenting all the new life that’s popping up all over the place. If you follow me on Facebook you’ll know that I’ve been sharing regular updates from the plot using Facebook Live video and I hope you’re enjoying the news.
Have you spotted this week’s Lidl brochure yet? I’m delighted to say that my homegrowing tips and advice are free for you to pick up this week to go along with the seedlings and produce that will go on special tomorrow morning (Monday 3rd April). Some of the items that will go on sale I got 10 days ago so I wanted to give you an allotment update and show you how the products have come along since I planted them at the allotment. This post is picture-heavy, you have been warned! 🙂 Read More →
Every evening when I get back from the allotment I look at my hands. They’re not as soft as they used to be, yet the children still say my touch is just as light as when they themselves were pumpkin-sized. They’re not the prettiest hands you’ll see and after a long day working at the plot there will always be a little lingering dirt even after the third soak. These are the hands that nourish my family, I grow food, and then cook it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way
This is my seventh year of growing my own food on an allotment but I grew some food at home for the year before that. Making the move to an allotment wasn’t a difficult choice to make; growing your own food is made so much easier when you have a wealth of advisors, space, and comaradery to draw upon. Read More →
In October 2016, my grandfather, Jim, turned 100. Jim Shortall was born in Dublin’s North Inner City in 1916, a time of great turmoil for the Irish state. Last year, as we commemorated the 100 year anniversary of the 1916 rising, my family was celebrating a joyous milestone for an incredible gentleman who once cycled internationally for Ireland.
Food that would have been common at the turn of the century in working class Dublin might be viewed as unhealthy or unappealing in modern Ireland. Many of the dishes include offal, which is much loved by the newer Irish immigrants from across Eastern Europe, Asia, and beyond.
I live in an area which has a multitude of different ethnic backgrounds. There are region-specific food stores nearby, indeed my estate alone boasts more than 40 nationalities.
When I think about the food that my grandfather grew up with, and still loves to this day, I can see how it should still appeal to us all now. We have a rich culinary heritage that sometimes gets lost in the ‘corned beef and cabbage’ or ‘green food’ associated with St Patrick’s Day.
There’s no reason why we can’t continue to cook our traditional recipes, but tweak them to include newer ingredients and flavours to reflect how diverse our country is today. Read More →
We walked to the allotment with heavy feet this week. It was neglected because we had neglected it. Life got in the way, which is ironic really considering how much life is entwined within the plot. Our lives, our material stuff, we allowed them to get in the way. Read More →
It seems so throwaway to say ‘Slow Blogging Changed My Life’ but actually it’s the truth (more on that later). Here are my top tips to becoming a slow blogger, although I’d hazard a guess that many bloggers already do this without actually realising it. Read More →
Everybody has to eat. Breaking bread together, sitting down to eat at a table, it is where I believe community begins. It’s a fundamental part of what makes us human.
As I grow food, prepare meals, and eat them with my family, I’m reminded that this is a process that has been going on for millenia. Growing, preparing, cooking, and eating.
In our society, as in most societies, 71% of families report that the task of meal preparation is carried out by women in Ireland.* In fact in the majority, women make grocery decisions, prepare the food, then serve it up to the family for everyone to enjoy. I’m not saying that this is the way it should be, but it is how it is. Yes, my husband is more than capable of doing all these things, but no, he doesn’t down to the division of labour within our family. He goes out of the home to work, I work from home, and so this cycle of being a homemaker (and work at home mother) continues with us both being willing partners. Read More →
It’s that time of the year again, when the weather becomes a little bit warmer, the days longer, and we begin to consider willingly spending more time outdoors. Walks to school/work etc don’t really come under the same heading. In the Spring you see a rake of shops and garden centres selling all the accessories so you can grow your own flowers or food. Nowadays it’s obviously seen as a bit of a fashion statement because there are plenty of stylish items that look brilliant on sale too (they wouldn’t last jig-time in my house).
You’ll (as always) see a big increase in my pictures taken outdoors while working at the allotment and this being our 6th year of growing our own food I thought it was the right time to chat a bit about the allotment.
We grow most of our food at the allotment, it’s 10 metres x 20 metres in size with a large polytunnel. The allotment scheme is located on some very claggy ground near the sea so we choose to do most of our growing in raised beds which we’ve filled with well-rotted manure and expired strawberry compost from a local farmer. If we grew directly into the ground it would be much harder to work and I wouldn’t have the handy edges on the raised beds to lean on when working. The raised beds also help us plan out (and rotate) our planting from year to year. Around the raised beds we have large pea gravel which helps with the drainage and stops us getting our feet wet. I did say the land was claggy…this means drainage can often be an issue.
WHY SO BIG?
This is a very large space to work on. On their own, one person would struggle to work this amount of land without putting in at least 2 hours per day. My husband and I work the land together, we are also located right beside my father-in-law who also has the same size allotment with a similar layout. The first year we moved into this allotment scheme (it’s not our first allotment) we grew mainly in the polytunnel and in a few raised beds. Every year since we put in more work and increased the number of raised beds, the gravel paths, the compost bins, and more. So it’s not as if we took on a 200 sq metre plot and decided we had to fill it straight away. We created more growing space as we became more knowledgeable.
WHAT DO WE GROW?
The easiest way to put this is that there is very little we don’t grow. For example, even with a polytunnel we can’t grow bananas, but we can grow many vegetables and fruits that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with Irish food such as melons and peaches. We also won’t grow many conventional potatoes this year, not because we can’t but because we are smack bang in the middle of the “market garden basket” of Ireland, and we can source these locally with ease. I am growing some unusual heritage potatoes though.
Yes we keep bees but not at the allotment. My father-in-law’s garden is home to the bee hives and we do very well from their hard work. The honey tastes incredible and we use it raw. I find it brilliant to treat hayfever symptoms and colds. It is a real treat. In hindsight we probably shouldn’t have told anybody we kept bees because the honey is in so much demand!
ARE WE SELF SUFFICIENT?
The answer is no, we’re not. Realistically I can’t ever see us becoming self sufficient. We live in a conventional estate house, it’s mid-terrace, and we use energy off the grid, mains water, and waste, also certain things are hard to grow without having lots of space. We don’t have as much space as a farm for example, which we’d need to grow our own grains and oils. We only have so much time in the week to work at the allotment and this is the happy marriage of a family that grows their own food alongside full time jobs, school, and other commitments.
DO WE SAVE MONEY?
Everybody asks this question!
I can’t put a price on the value that growing our own food brings to our family. From the kids spending hours outdoors playing, learning how to grow their own food and rear animals (which are life skills), eating fresh food straight from the plot that has been grown as organically as possible, to my husband and I learning to work together as a team, it’s all added value. Seeds cost very little; a packet of 1,500 lettuce seeds cost €1.49 in my local Lidl. We got the spent compost for free, the manure for the cost of hiring a tractor & trailer to collect it, the raised beds are made from old scaffolding planks.
The biggest investment in growing your own food is time.
If I balance it up at the end of the year then renting the allotment, and all the financial investment, balances off against the money we save on fruit, vegetables, pork, and honey. It’s not like-for-like you see because buying organically grown fruit and vegetables, raw local honey, and free range antibiotic-free pork would be far more expensive on a conventional grocery bill. This way we get to eat extremely well on a budget.
That’s not really what it’s about though. Growing our own food has become the norm for us and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
As I was working through the content on my blog recently, I realised that I don’t share recipes quite as often as I used to. In fact, I probably only share a recipe once a month or so.
There’s a good reason for that though and that’s because I’ve become much more stringent with my recipe testing. If you ever wondered how I test recipes and why I take so long maybe this will help! Read More →